Unions representing nurses and other NHS workers are appealing directly to the government for staff to receive a 3.9% pay rise, in line with inflation, plus an £800 lump sum.
In a letter sent to the chancellor yesterday, the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Midwives, Unison and other unions called for funds to be earmarked in the government’s budget in November.
“Nursing staff must be given a pay rise that matches inflation, with an additional consolidated lump sum”
The group of unions, which are appealing on behalf of more than one million health workers across the UK, said NHS staff had experienced a real-terms cut of 15% in recent years due to the government holding down or freezing salaries.
They are calling for a rise of 3.9% in line with the current retail price index, which measures the change in the cost of goods and services for UK households over the past 12 months
The additional consolidated £800 lump sum for all staff would help to restore some of the wages NHS workers had lost since 2010, they said.
Unions said they were breaking with tradition and submitting a claim directly to the government because the NHS pay review body, which assesses salaries every year and recommends wage rises, had been undermined due to the government’s 1% cap for public sector workers.
Following the government’s removal of the cap for police and prison officers earlier this week, it was thought that Treasury chief secretary Liz Truss would outline plans to the relevant pay review body about ending the limit for NHS workers later this month.
“A decent pay rise will make it easier for struggling hospital trusts to attract new recruits and hold onto experienced staff”
But it is understood that this year’s pay review process has been delayed – possibly until the end of the year – and that the review body has still not yet received any direction from Ms Truss.
In the past, the government would ask the pay review body by the end of the summer to begin its work. The body would then collect evidence from the government, unions and employers over the autumn and a decision would be made by the government in the spring.
It is understood that the delay has prompted unions to submit a pay claim directly to the government – but that they would still offer evidence to the NHS pay review body when it began its work.
Unison’s head of health, Sara Gorton, who chairs the group of 14 health trade unions during pay negotiations, said NHS workers deserved a salary increase that restores at least some of their lost earnings.
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“Health workers have gone without a proper pay rise for far too long. Their wages continue to fall behind inflation as food and fuel bills, housing and transport costs rise,” she said.
“A decent pay rise will make it easier for struggling hospital trusts to attract new recruits and hold onto experienced staff. Continuing with the pay cap will further damage services, and that affects us all,” she added.
The Royal College of Nursing warned that if the government lifted the cap for NHS nurses to the same level as it had done for police and prison officers, it would still effectively be a real-terms cut.
Police and prison officers will get a 1% rise plus a 1% bonus, and a 1.7% rise, respectively.
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“Nursing staff must be given a pay rise that matches inflation, with an additional consolidated lump sum that begins to make up for the years of lost pay,” said RCN chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies.
“When the next pay review body process begins, the government must allow it to be truly independent and able to recommend a meaningful increase that helps hardworking staff with the cost of living,” she added.
The pay rises for police and prison officers are expected to be funded from existing budgets, but Ms Davies warned the government that an increase in nurse salaries must “not force the NHS to cut services or jobs to pay for it”.
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Jon Skewes, Royal College of Midwives director for employment relations and communications, added: “This claim represents fair compensation for the rise of cost in living and goes someway to make up for midwives’ pay losing over £6,000 in value since 2010.
“Without an increase to pay, there will be no incentive for midwives to stay in midwifery, or for students to consider joining a profession that’s so undervalued by the government and badly overstretched in terms of staffing,” he said.
Commenting on the move by unions, the NHS Confederation, which represents health organisations in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, said employers could not afford to fund salary increases themselves.
“At the NHS Confederation, we have made clear that we do not believe that the 1% pay cap is sustainable and that our members have mounting concern about both recruitment and retention of vital front line staff,” said NHS Confederation chief executive Niall Dickson.
“For many of our members, workforce is now their number one challenge,” he said. “But we have also made it clear that any attempt by the government to make the service meet the cost of any pay increase would be a disaster – the pressures on NHS organisations are unprecedented and funding has been at historically low levels.”
“Any attempt to make the service meet the cost of any pay increase would be a disaster”
Mr Dickson said: “Current plans for funding health and care services over the next two years are already unrealistic and any further cost on the pay bill must be matched with additional funds.
“We recognise that extra money for healthcare has to come from somewhere, but we believe there would be public support for making this a priority,” he said.
The letter follows a week in which public sector pay has been in the political and media spotlight.
On Tuesday, the government announced that chancellor Philip Hammond would give his autumn budget speech on 22 November.
The following day, MPs unanimously passed a motion in favour of a fair pay rise for NHS staff, though the government stopped short of announcing a formal end to the pay cap.